Life lessons from a dog.


I was looking very forward to this weekend, because I was taking care of my dear friend, Katya, my first friend here in San Francisco and the best dog ever. But this weekend was not without its trials. She has been diagnosed with something esophageal, and she’s been struggling with keeping her food, water, and meds down recently.  Despite some lethargy, she remains in impeccable spirits and high energy when ready for a walk.  But after her 40th vomiting session of the day and four rolls of paper towels later, I lost my cool and yelled at her as she threw up on my white couch at 3:15am, through the blanket that was put there for such an occasion.  And as I picked up the sodden blanket, I just started crying.  Out of frustration, fear, sadness, and all that I’ve been holding inside these past few months. I imagine this is what moms feel like when their kid is sick – exhaustion from the lack of sleep, helpless in their efforts to make it better, vulnerable in their fear. I cried because I was mad at my impatience with her. It was less anger at cleaning up another load of bile and entirely about being alone in this experience.  But she doesn’t know that.  She just hears the tone of my voice.

Thankfully she was quick to forgive, and walked slowly back over to me, her tail wagging, despite her continued gagging slowing her steps.  For hours more, she was restless, and I finally my head hit the pillow at 7am, both of us exhausted from the experience.  The load of laundry I did before the sun rose was evidently done with my eyes closed.  I neglected to see a red sock left in the washer and I sit, now typing, on a pink couch cushion.

I’ve been overly busy recently, doing everything but withdrawing from life. I’m meeting tons of new people, and trying to take care of myself. But really, I am exhausted – physically, mentally, emotionally, and my faith has suffered.  I’m so fearful, and far from peace today.  I know that coming out here was the best thing for my career, and I’m grateful that I’ve found a place that forces my skills to sharpen.  But I’m so afraid – that my nieces will not recognize me as they grow, that my friends will forget me, that being out here is too hard to do alone,  and that this quiet will continue.

So Katya seems to have opened up my floodgates, as I have tears running down my face while watching a priest cry on 60 Minutes. And maybe that was her purpose for this weekend – to teach me to accept what I’m feeling and to express it. To not distract myself from my challenges, my anger, and lack of understanding – but instead to learn to not be scared of them, and ask them to stay a while.  To warm themselves by the fire, and take a load off.


Pushed Past the Comfort Zone

One of my many Thanksgiving indulgences (thank you to whomever invented elastic waistband sweatpants) is diving headfirst into the twenty weeks of People magazines that my mother has saved for me at home.  Surrounded by my colorful stacks, I sat and read about the resurrection of Elin Nordegren, Sandra Bullock’s new baby, and how Glee has jumped the shark… a half year of playing catch-up on all that the entertainment world has regurgitated. If anything, it’s a gigantic gracias for the normalcy of my own life. My own little private Thanksgiving, of sorts.

At one point, I asked:

‘Who’s Demi Lovato, why is she in rehab, and why do we care?”

Intended as a rhetorical question, Dad piped in, while watching the Patriots game:

“Oh, she was with Joe Jonas for a while, but they broke up.”

(silence, as five startled pairs of eyes, looked at him, awestruck)

In an attempt to know more than my father about Hollywood gossip (he, the man who broke the news to me over IM that Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise separated), I forged ahead with my reading.  Ironically, one of the stories I read was about Nicole Kidman and her husband, Keith Urban.  If you’ve kept up with the tribulations of Tinseltown, Keith has been to rehab several times with alcohol and cocaine addiction, most recently leading to cheating on Nic (I call her Nic, we’re buds) with some girl (cough, floosy) during their engagement.  Nicole found out after their wedding, staged an intervention, and got him into rehab again, his third attempt in eight years. This time, with much more on the line, he was ready to make the change. Four years later, he is releasing a new album, songs written for Nicole and the following love note in the cd liner notes:

“Nicole Mary—I continue to be brought to my knees by this love of ours… I am in awe of how this blessed family we are creating stretches and fearlessly opens my vulnerable heart…and I just want to be a better man, for you, and father for our heavenly Sunday Rose and have you go to sleep every night knowing that no one has ever, or will ever, love you as much as I do…and all we need is faith.”

In my last night of yoga (adios, Equinox and your $173 membership), I was pushed far past my comfort zone.  And I wasn’t the only one…three people walked out within the first few minutes.  This instructor does not lead my favorite class…she teaches a loud practice…but with their sudden departure, she talked about the difference between people who stay and people who give up…that the only way we grow in our practice, through our lives, was to stay and push through the hard times.  Some days our feet won’t get into that headstand, sometimes our arms won’t hold us firm, some days we don’t like what we’re involved in. But every time we attempt, we grow stronger. We take the risk and kick our legs up…and sometimes that’s all it is that day. Maybe the next day, we’ll get there, stable and still.  Some will give up, walk out and leave, their mats unused.  Others persevere, push forward, challenge themselves, and become stronger for it.

At the end of our class, my instructor said “Yoga, like everything in life, especially true love, is not born, but made. Choosing one person, choosing to stay, fighting through the difficult days, the unsteadiness…and celebrating that choice for the remainder of your days is the only way to live.  Don’t give up, and don’t walk out.”

And that’s when my least favorite yoga instructor became my favorite yoga instructor.

Lacing them back up….

A great question has been asked recently, one that I’ve seen in blogs and recently splashed on Times Square billboards and subway cars – “What are you running for?”  It’s made me think long and hard, as well as make me feel incredibly guilty.  Once an avid runner, my last run was no more than a slow jog almost two months ago across the now very monotonous, repetitive Central Park.  It took much personal cajoling, several revoked excuses, and too many promised post-run rewards to go on that short run.  I found I didn’t love it anymore…I was forcing it, trying to remember a time when I liked lacing up my sneakers.  Suddenly, running wasn’t a release from my stress, it was another damn thing I had to do.  And I was tired of being told what to do.  Immediately post-graduation, post-San Francisco half-marathon, I began asking myself, “What do I want to do tonight?”  After a thousand nights of balancing work and class, nary a vacation taken in years, I wanted to just…go…home.  So I did.  Repeatedly.  Going home directly after work, making dinner, watching tv, and having a glass of wine like a normal person.  Fastforward three months, and I am a waste of space, an amoeba in gray cargo sweatpants laying on my couch.  I am Homer Simpson with a brunette bob.  I feel bad in my skin, I don’t sleep well, and I eat French fries at every meal…you think I’m kidding, I was in McDonald’s on Broadway at 11:35 this morning.

So naturally, I’m disgusted with myself – and now to top it all off, the NYC marathon is in mere days and the city awash in running euphoria.  Sales at Paragon, billboards outside my office, ads staring at me in my daily paper, and the constant question directed to me “Are you running this year?”

My reply, “How on earth would I have the time, when I’m busy eating this doughnut?”

So thankfully, guilt has won, and I went running tonight for the first time in months.  And, as I knew it would, it felt great, and my breath never quickened.   I just had to find my way back, and answer the question, “Why do I run?”   If you ask yourself this question about anything in your life that you love or once loved,  I’m warning you, you will make immediate changes.

So why do I run?

1)  If the Chilean miner can train for the NYC marathon while trapped in a damn cave, I can get my arse to Equinox.

Talk about dedication….Edison Pena, after being trapped for 69 days said, “Maybe I ran because I was anxious, maybe to find a way out.  Running is a way of releasing tensions, clearing the head, freeing yourself from chaotic thoughts.”  No, I wouldn’t know anything about that, Edison.

2) My health.

It’s the only thing that allows me to eat what I want to eat, drink what I want to drink, and still stay fit.   My lack of self-control will deter me from ever being able to go on a diet…so I need to find ways around avoiding white flour and carbs.  Booze is my friend.  I eat five slices of bread a day.  Pizza three times a week.  Pasta six times a week.  I think Dr. Atkins should have been tarred and feathered.  Food is my life.  I can eat you under the table, anytime, anywhere.  What lets me get away with it?  Running.

3) Because I have two legs.

And am blessed to have them.  When I ran the NYC marathon in 2008, there was a man who PASSED me, who had no legs.  Let me repeat myself.  The man was on crutches with no legs, and he passed me.  Let’s forget what a turd I felt like, that’s another discussion entirely.

I ran alongside some very old veterans who proudly wore their emblemed caps signifying their division and rank.  I ran with people who had faces stamped on their shirts who had passed from breast cancer, cerebral palsy, MS, AIDS., September 11.   I ran for 4 hours, thankful that I had a healthy body that carried me the whole way. – and eternally grateful that there was no one I loved who needed to be pasted onto my shirt.

4)  Ego.

I was a sprinter in high school, in the 55 meter hurdles, 100 meter dash., and 4x200m relay.  I scoffed at running over a mile.  When two co-workers revealed they  were training for a half marathon, I immediately asked “Why would you do that?  Do you not like yourself?” while simultaneously thinking, “If these chumps can do this, so can I.”  And so it began.

5) Endorphins.

Only runners will understand the feeling of finishing a run, having pushed yourself beyond the limitations you set for yourself.  The ones that others set for you.  And surpassing them.  From completing a slow jog on a challenging day to the disbelief of having that silver foil put around you after 26.2… It’s all amazing.  You come home proud each time.  And positive.  For all of you who know me (and those who don’t), I know it comes as no secret that I’m not Ms. Positivity all the time.  But running doesn’t allow you to go to that place.

So this begs the question….why do you run?  Why do you do anything that you love doing?  Why do you play tennis?  Why do you knit?  Why do you write?  Why do you paint?  Why do you read?  Why do you crave going home to your wife and kids at night instead of happy hour?  My advice to you is to think about your answer…to get out of the habit of “Just Do It” and instead remember why you love it.  Why it treats you so well.  Why, without it, you become a different person than who you are meant to be.  I guarantee you….you’ll experience your own equivalent to hopping on a creaky Equinox treadmill and pounding it out.